RAPID CITY, S.D. — More than a decade after a tourist found the decomposing body of 38-year-old woman in the Black Hills of South Dakota, the boyfriend accused of her murder took a plea offer the day before trial.
Meshell Will was reported missing in August 2013 and was discovered four days later. Richard Schmitz, 55, was arrested nearly eight years later in 2021 and was charged with second-degree murder.
On Tuesday, Schmitz entered an Alford plea — acknowledging the state has enough evidence to convict him while maintaining his innocence — to second-degree manslaughter, a felony with up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, the Rapid City Journal reported.
In exchange, the state agreed to drop the second-degree murder charge, which carries a mandatory life sentence. Second-degree manslaughter is the reckless killing of another person.
Deputy Pennington County State’s Attorney Roxanne Hammond said that Schmitz “at the very minimum” recklessly caused Will’s death.
The autopsy conducted on Will’s body in September 2013 listed the cause of death as undetermined. Schmitz remained a person of interest for eight years before he was ultimately arrested.
Law enforcement has not stated what piece of evidence ultimately tipped the scales towards Schmitz’s arrest. However, a case summary requesting a warrant for his arrest referenced a 2021 pathology report that ruled out natural, suicide, or accidental manner of death. “Thus, the manner of death is either undetermined or homicide,” the report stated, the Rapid City Journal reported.
According to the investigator’s summary, the forensic pathologist concluded there was sufficient evidence to argue strongly that the manner of death was homicide, as Will died shortly after she was last seen alive with Schmitz, and her body was dumped off of the slope within hours of her death.
The state had intended to introduce information about three of Schmitz’s past relationships — three women who said Schmitz had been violent with them — at trial, according to the Rapid City Journal.
Presiding Judge Craig Pfeifle has ordered a standard pre-sentencing investigation report and a domestic violence report to help inform Schmitz’s sentencing, which is scheduled for March 8.